Industry News

Seventy-two First Tee teens to attend First Tee Game Changers Academy in Philadelphia

A RISE ‘Critical Conversation’ featuring Golf Channel’s Damon Hack, 76ers Isaiah Joe and leaders from the sports industry to kick off the weeklong dialogue around issues of race and equality

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. (July 18, 2022) − First Tee, a youth development organization that teaches life skills and helps kids and teens build their strength of character through golf, will host the First Tee Game Changers Academy Honoring Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. Philadelphia, July 19-23, 2022. Seventy-two teens from First Tee chapters across the country have been selected for the five-day learning and empowerment academy to explore issues of identity, racism, equity and empathy. 

The week will kick off with a RISE ‘Critical Conversation’ on Tuesday, July 19 featuring Golf Channel’s Damon Hack, PGA TOUR’s Vice-President of Community & Inclusion Marsha Oliver, Villanova University’s Assistant Athletic Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion/Director of UNITAS Leashia Lewis and First Tee – Greater Philadelphia’s Assistant Executive Director Rebecca Caimano. Corey Posey, Sr. Director of Programs & Curriculum at RISE will moderate the conversation on the topic of identity and how we talk about race.  

RISE, a national nonprofit and leader in the sports community championing social justice and working to improve race relations, will also facilitate engaging and interactive workshops through the week. The workshops will explore a multitude of topics that encourage personal growth and understanding of diversity concepts that foster positive change in the community.  The workshops will be paired with reflections led by our nationally trained First Tee coaches, team building activities such as a scavenger hunt in the city of Philadelphia and golf outings at Walnut Lane Golf Club and Merion Golf Club where they will continue to build upon their connections with other participants from around the country and hear different perspectives from their peers.   

“Diversity, equity and inclusion have been part of the fabric of First Tee since the beginning, and we are proud to provide an event that allows teens from across the country to go deeper on the subject,” said Greg McLaughlin, First Tee CEO. “First Tee is about empowering these young people to be game changers in their community. Congratulations to the 72 teens for being selected from a national pool of candidates to represent their First Tee chapter at this event.”   

This Academy is an evolution of First Tee’s longest standing participant event, the Life Skills Academy Honoring Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. The event was enhanced in 2021 to address the challenges teens face in their daily lives and better equips them to build the strength of character to be game changers in their communities. The Academy honors First Tee’s former CEO, Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., who led the organization from 2000 until his retirement in 2017. It’s one of several national opportunities provided by First Tee headquarters designed to inspire and encourage high school students on a deeper level as they progress through the program and toward higher education opportunities.      

The 72 teens attending the Academy can be viewed here. For more information on First Tee, visit  

Featured Participants:    

Natalie McKenzie, First Tee – Greater Seattle  (Bellevue)  

  • 17-year-old rising senior boasting a 3.943 GPA   
  • Natalie has been involved with First Tee for twelve years and is the president of First Tee – Greater Seattle’s Junior Advisory Board 
  • Plays on varsity girls’ high school golf team   
  • She is the founder and president of the Biotechnology Club at her school where she arranges lectures with local research scientists to expose students to the field  
  • Aspires to be an actuary in the biotechnology field   

“Learning about many different perspectives cultivates a well-rounded understanding of the world around us. This ongoing experience allows individuals to collaborate with others in complementary and eye-opening ways.”  

Victoria Farkas, First Tee – Fort Worth   

  • 16-year-old rising junior boasting a 3.8 GPA   
  • Victoria has been involved with First Tee for seven years, where she is the vice president of the Junior Advisory Committee at the chapter. 
  • Participates in sports medicine with the football and girls’ soccer teams at her high school   
  • Aspires to play collegiate golf and earn an academic or sports scholarship   

“I’m the only colored golfer at my school and the only Hispanic girl golfer as well. I wish to help Hispanics embrace who they are because we can be that one person that makes a difference and contributes to a richer life experience that others may not get to show.”   

Ethan Selvers, First Tee – Metropolitan New York (Westfield, NJ) 

  • 15-year-old rising sophomore boasting a 4.2 GPA   
  • Ethan has been involved with First Tee for seven years  
  • Member of the Small Business Club and the No Place for Hate Committee at his high school  
  • Aspires to have a career in finance   

“Everyone possesses a unique history, and almost everyone I know has long-standing traditions that are unique to their family, religion, or nationality. While our histories and traditions may be different from one another, we all share a common existence and need to learn from one another so that we can utilize our differences to foster innovation.”   

Thalia Hoyos, First Tee – Metropolitan Oklahoma City (Yukon)  

  • 15-year-old rising junior boasting a 3.6 GPA   
  • Thalia has been involved with First Tee for six years 
  • She is a member of the DECA club at her school, where she organizes community service and fundraising 
  • Plays on her high school’s varsity girls’ golf team   
  • Aspires to golf on the LPGA Tour   

“When I moved to Riley, Kansas, I was the only Hispanic girl in my freshman class. Because of my exposure to diverse individuals and keeping an open mind to their viewpoints, I was able to participate in things I would have never thought I would have previously done.”   

About PGA TOUR First Tee Foundation (“First Tee”)  First Tee ( is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit youth development organization that is supported by the PGA TOUR. Its mission is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character and instill life-enhancing values through the game of golf. In 2022, First Tee celebrates its 25th anniversary and reaching millions of youth through its network of 150 chapters, 10,000 schools and 1,700 youth centers. Headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA, programs are delivered in all 50 United States and select international locations. President George W. Bush serves as Honorary Chair.